There’s a giddy sensation that comes with being stoned with a big group of people, but, if you aren’t careful, it’s easy to fall into what’s known as the “green hole” — a negative vortex of self-doubt and fear.
Picture me alone in Vancouver at a marijuana expo party. My wife and kids are back home in Toronto. The bar is closing. It’s the after-party. The owner tells the invited guests: “You can smoke whatever you want in here.”
As the patio fills, like mosquitos at dusk, out come joints and vape pens (which I try for the first time and hit like I’m about to blow up a balloon). It’s Studio 54 if weed was cocaine. I try this and that and bounce between groups. It seems like everyone works in the weed industry and it’s a sharing economy — Silicon Valley meets the Grateful Dead. The high is like an electric current, triumphant.
Tonight in weedland, we are all complicit. You can talk to anyone because everyone’s stoned, except, wait a minute, who are these people? I break from my revelry, hesitate, and, on the outskirts of strange conversations, drift away. Alone at the party, here comes the free fall. I’m 44, married, I have two children and my younger sister looks up to me, but I’m high and out on the town. I am floundering and unsuccessful. Stay positive, kid. It’s luck that I find my ticket for coat check and a miracle I’m able to hail down a cab. Stoned, I have no idea how to behave.
When marijuana becomes legal on Oct. 17, expect scenes like this to be repeated. In the social sphere, it may be a dangerous new frontier. What are the rules? How will legalization change the way grownups socialize? Maybe there’s a work function and someone breaks out a joint. Maybe it’s a family function and the most surprising relative is indulging. Maybe you puff something by yourself and then head to the movies, and find yourself freaking out about what the other people in the theatre might think about the middle aged man seeing Crazy Rich Asians alone.
Alcohol deadens the brain. It’s an anesthetic. It dulls the brain’s ability to process experiences. Cannabis is an analgesia, which lessens pain, but also affects the nervous system. THC is a molecule that acts on the brain tissue and disrupts our cognitive experience.
“Our brain has evolved so that a change in consciousness triggers fear,” says Gary Wenk, professor of neuroscience at Ohio State University. “Fear keeps you alive. Man is conditioned to feel fear first.”
Tonight in weedland, we are all complicit
The second time I smoke in public, I freak out again. Fear is the opposite of fun. It’s a lack of confidence. But socializing on cannabis gets easier the more times you do it. It’s like working out. You have to train. I smoked a joint in the condo of a 28-year-old weed CEO I was interviewing and, for 10 minutes, in our cocoon, it was great. We dropped into a creative rapport and — perhaps as an instinct from college in 1990 — I turned on Bob Marley, got the giggles and felt exhilarated, high.
Part of it is the novelty of smoking with somebody you don’t know — the ritual doesn’t feel as natural as going for beers. It’s more intimate, more personal. Maybe that will change, or maybe we’re not meant to normalize marijuana’s psychoactive effects. I’m used to beer. I’m not unfamiliar with weed, but out in public, at doses designed to impress someone I just met, cannabis still has the shocking sensation of making me want to hide.
And now — with my new friend, out of the condo and at a party — I’m completely stoned.
My guy’s got a camera on him and moves with style. I freeze up when it comes time to order a drink. Cannabis requires assimilation. Scared, I duck someone I know. I’m not in the headspace to socialize. This is the feeling I wanted, but once it arrives there’s no turning back — you can’t undo a high. Time, however, helps, and the wave of weed paranoia passes. I drink a beer, see a friend, and drift back down to earth.
“I know if I go out and have two glasses of wine with my meal and the babysitter calls, I can care for my child if she’s sick. We don’t yet have that barometer for cannabis,” says Rebecca Haines-Saah, a health sociologist at the University of Calgary studying policy implications of cannabis legalization. Statistics say that cannabis is likely going to be smoked most by people under 25 and that seniors over 65 are the fastest growing group of medical marijuana users. Not surprisingly, Haines-Saah says, after 25 — especially if you’re out of practice — cannabis can make you anxious and paranoid.
Her research with adolescent men, however, revealed the cannabis response that many of us remember — and want to experience again. “When they were high, guys could be more sensitive and talk about different topics,” says Haines-Saah. “Maybe with cannabis, we can see people getting more philosophical and opening up and not becoming the crying drunken person who gets overly emotional.”
I’ve spent half a year covering cannabis (and smoking it) and this is what I’ve learned: doing drugs with strangers, you improve. The last weed party I went to was an overnighter and I was tempted not to go. But this is journalism, this is history — plus, my wife said to go. Let’s rock ‘n’ roll.
I get to the party around noon. It’s promoting strains from Up Cannabis, inspired by songs from their partners, the Tragically Hip. The band’s here, having cocktails, and I have a beer and a vodka concoction before I smoke a few tokes on a joint. I am unencumbered, perfected. The sun is shining and I am free. Walking around, meeting people; being funny, at least, I think. Moderation is key. You have to train yourself for legalization.
The worst thing that’s happened to me is I’ve failed twice at ordering a beer. (And maybe at that time, my wife would probably say, it’s best to switch over to water). But I’ve never gotten mean or messy. When weed becomes legal, people in my cohort are going to see it more often. Its prevalence has already increased over the last six months.
Currently, I have more friends who smoke weed than smoke cigarettes, and it feels like, if 30 per cent smoke pot, 85 per cent still drink alcohol. Maybe the pot-to-alcohol ratio will change. I hope so. Because if alcohol helps you exhale, weed helps you see things differently. It’s an honesty pill. A chance to let go.
Maybe the pot-to-alcohol ratio will change. I hope so
It’s interesting to envision the new social scenarios. I can imagine my parents, in their 60s and retired, sharing a joint instead of a cocktail with their neighbours in the suburbs. Although my dad has asthma and my mom hates the smoke, so I think vaping or edibles will be the preferred method of getting high. Will boomers consume cannabis before seeing Phil Collins? Will families share cannabis during the holidays, at New Year’s? I think, if it’s done after the kids have gone to bed, and there are available leftovers, why not? I predict that edible desserts will pop up at hip boomer dinner parties and early adopters will take cannabidiol over Advil. It won’t be the norm, not yet, and not for awhile. But, I think, when people are out socializing, they’ll find themselves open to experimentation.
It’s already happening and, once we find our feet, this will all become part of the nocturnal norm. Obviously there are still some kinks to be ironed out. Alcohol and pot make a delicate mix. Dosages need to be tested. And certainly, at least in my case, it’s not something I’m comfortable doing in front of the kids. I can take my four-year-old to the LCBO. I’ve been doing that for years. But I’d feel queasy taking him to a cannabis store. My own hypocrisy doesn’t even make sense to me. But I’m pretty sure the other parents at the playground smoke, too. (Though we wouldn’t be high at pickup, just like we wouldn’t be drunk.) It’s a new world.
Adults socializing on weed could find a decent, tolerant world after legalization, with more people less reliant on our defence mechanisms and sour tropes. I think the average person, whoever that is, who’s never smoked or hasn’t smoked in decades — parents like my friends and I, baby boomers like my mother, and Bay Street titans — will benefit from a little slanted introspection, humility; being taken off guard. The world is angry, our instinct is: fight. Saying, “I’m sorry,” unclenching the fist, feels like sweet relief. I smoke weed and realize I’m a moron. That’s good, because it’s exhausting carrying on like I’m not.
Sure, sometimes you’re going to smoke too much weed when you’re partying. Just like the time you ate too much cake or drank too much wine. But, if you keep trying, keep dabbling, cannabis can enrich our nocturnal communications — even if it’s just for one night.
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